For the first time in World Cup history, the two finalists from the previous World Cup did not make it to the knockout stage. France’s exit was hardly unexpected, given that they weren’t very good and, perhaps more importantly, karma’s a bitch. That would be divine retribution for Thierry Henry’s blatant handball. But Italy is another story. Slovakia’s 3-2 victory was a bit of shock.
The Italians have developed a bit of a reputation as slow starters who eventually get all their pistons firing. Strange thing about 2010, though, is that never happened. Italy constantly looked lethargic, with bad passing and inadequate players. In fact, Italy looked old. And that, boys and girls, was the main problem. The Italian team was old; it relied too much on old warhorses like Fabio Cannavaro, who should have been thanked for his service and reduced to a substitute. The strikers couldn’t find the net; in effect, they couldn’t do their job. Marcello Lippi, who left the field without shaking hands with the Slovakian manager (which I really have no problem with, but it is kinda classless, though he redeemed himself by falling on his sword at the post-match press conference), failed to inject the squad with youth. And yes, I mean Giuseppe Rossi, among others. How much did he want Rossi to come on the field in the second half for a much-needed spark? I know that’s what I wanted.
The problem is a little more systemic, though. Italy was an old team because they don’t have young players to replace the veterans. The lack of development at Italian clubs is catching up with the national team (for example, everyone makes a big deal out of the fact that Italy’s best team – Inter Milan – did not have one Italian on the World Cup squad), and it’s going to cost them. The Italian FA need to ensure that domestic clubs develop talent. And the national team needs to start accepting players that don’t play in Italy (England and Spain have better leagues).
This is hardly a crippling problem, to be sure. It is fixed relatively easily. The Italian FA needs to hire a manager unafraid to make changes.